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Iagos motivation

Iago's Motivation

Iago is a "moral pyromaniac." Harold C. Goddard writes that Iago

consciously and unconsciously seeks to destroy the lives of others, especially

others with high moral standards (Goddard 76). However, Iago is more than

just a "moral pyromaniac," he is a moral pyromaniac whose fire is fueled by

pure hatred. He is a hungry powermonger whose appetite for destruction can

only be satisfied after he has chewed up and spat out the lives of others. Iago

lusts for power, but his sense of power is attained by manipulating and

annihilating others in a cruel and unusual way. Iago prepares and ignites his

victims and then watches, with an excitable evil in his eye, as his human

pyres go up in flames.

Iago undeniably has an unquenchable thirst for power and domination.

Critics such as M. R. Ridley believe that the ability to hurt is the most

convincing display of one's power (Ridley lxi). Iago has a deep, inbred

desire to cause and view intolerable suffering. The power of Iago is

exercised when he prepares and then implements an evil plan designed to

inflict man with the most extreme amounts of anguish possible. Iago controls

the play, he brilliantly determines how each character shall act and react. He

is a pressing advocate of evil, a pernicious escort, steering good people

toward their own vulgar destruction.

Iago must first make careful preparations in order to make certain his fire

of human destruction will burn with fury and rage. He douses his victims

with a false sense of honesty and goodness. And, as do most skillful

pyromaniacs, Iago first prepares his most important target, Othello:

Though in the trade of war I have slain men, \ Yet do I hold it very

stuff o'th' conscience To do no contrived murder. I lack the iniquity.

. .\ I had thought t'have yerked him under the ribs\ . . .\ . . .he prated\

And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms\ Against your Honor (I,

ii 1-10).

These sentences are obvious lies (to the reader), but they are crucial to the

saboteur because they present Iago to Othello as a brave, loyal, and moral

person. Iago indirectly and cleverly portrays himself as a man ready to fight

and brave enough to kill; yet, he also wants Othello to believe that he would

not kill without just reason. Iago pretends to be so loyal as to be tempted to

kill any slanderer of Othello. It is evident that Othello has complete faith in

Iago's claims as he states "thou'rt full of love and honesty" and "O brave Iago,

honest and just" (III, iii 136\IV, i 34). Iago douses more dishonesty onto

other characters such as Cassio who trusts Iago: "You advise me well\. . .\

Goodnight, honest Iago," and Desdemona who calls Iago "an honest fellow"

(II, iii 346\355\5). Iago's deceitfulness is best epitomized by his ability to

continually dupe Roderigo into serving his own insidious desires. Iago,

always the careful pyromaniac, successfully pours his fuel of deceptiveness

onto the victims before he lights his match.

Once his victims are cloaked in misconception and dripping with

innocence, Iago can ignite his scrupulously prepared fire. His evil creation is

ready to burst into flames, "it is engendered. Hell and night\. . .bring this

monstrous birth to the world's light" (I, iii 446-447). Iago is the ultimate

opportunist, he knows exactly where and when to strike. He is fully aware

that he can most malignantly destroy Cassio through dishonor, Othello

through jealousy, Roderigo through naiveté, and Desdemona through purity.

Iago is able to intoxicate Cassio, who has "very poor and unhappy brains for

drinking," and, thus, dishonor him (II, iii 34). Iago pretends to be Cassio's

good-old-drinking-buddy, but actually intends to embarrass him. Iago, the

pyromaniac, proudly watches as Cassio goes up in flames: "I have lost my

reputation\. . .and what remains is bestial" (II, iii 282-283). Another log is

thrust into the fire when Iago remarks that reputation, which Cassio has

devoted his whole to building up, is "an idle and most false imposition" (II,

iii 287). Iago seems to get a kick out of the amount of suffering he is able to


Iago completes his mission as a amateur pyromaniac, he has scorched his

first piece of furniture, but now he must become a professional arsonist and

burn down the entire house. Iago concentrates on destroying Othello by

turning "virtue into pitch\. . .out of goodness make the net\ That shall enmesh

them all" (II, iii 380-383). Iago, the fire-breathing villain, continues his

"bloody business" by tormenting Othello with specific, and often times

vulgar, descriptions of Desdemona's alleged sexual exploits with Cassio. (III,

iv 532). Iago provides everything but "ocular proof," and eventually Othello

becomes so distraught and enraged that he falls into a seizure. Iago

continues to add fuel to the fire until Desdemona and his own wife have been

murdered, Cassio and Roderigo seriously wounded, and Othello has killed

himself. Iago lives only for the death of others. His inner fire is fueled by

hatred and blood. Othello tries to kill Iago but he "cannot kill thee" (V, ii

337). Othello tries to fight fire with fire when he stabs Iago. Iago is a

"demi-devil," a "pernicious caitiff," a human sphere of maliciousness who

cannot be killed by hate, for hate is what he lives for (V, ii 368\375).

* * *

Harold Goddard believes that if Iago were of less intelligence, he would

have been a true pyromaniac (Goddard 76). A dull-witted Iago might light

fires in forests, rather than in the minds of men. A unintelligent Iago may

enjoy watching trees ablaze and seething, rather than men. Goddard insists

that Iago exhibits "dozens" of the characteristics of the typical pyromaniac

(Goddard 76). His "secret joy" of observing his inferno in progress is the

most obvious (Goddard 76).

As Goddard states, the true motive of Iago is his "underlying condition."

He is a "moral pyromaniac" and cannot help himself. On several occasions

Iago consciously realizes that what he is doing is evil and desperately

searches for motives. However the "reasons he assigns for his hatred in the

course of the play are not so much motives as symptoms of a deeply

underlying condition." (Goddard 75).

M. R. Ridley states that Iago's actions are so vulgar and evil that only an

"incarnate fiend" could apply them (Ridley lxi). Because Iago's actions are

so evil and his lust for power is so great, they must be innate characteristics

of a deranged man. No man could possibly learn to be as evil as Iago or to

enjoy the demise of others as Iago did. Iago was born a "moral pyromaniac"

and will enjoy suffering as long as he lives. Heaven for Iago is Hell.

Iago continually seeks power through the destruction of others. He is

inflicted with moral pyromania and is driven by an inborn urge to disgrace

and demolish mankind. The ultimate goal of Iago and of every "moral

pyromaniac" is to crush the sprits of others and to corrupt all that is virtuous.

Iago succeeds by reaping havoc upon a group of moral and kind people. He

may even enjoy his punishment: torture. Iago's motivation is not a motivation

at all, it is a disease; a disease that can only be cured in Hell. As long as Iago

exists on earth, there will always be another house to burn, another life to


Works Cited

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespear. Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1960. 75-76.

Ridley, M. R. Othello. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959. lx-lxiii.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. New

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